Cause For Alarm


When I was a teenager, (back in the days when Abraham Lincoln was president) my father often thought it was funny to plant little surprises in my pocketbook for me to discover at inopportune moments. I was used to that, and a search for anything in my purse often resulted in a sort of gestalt experience.

There was no telling what I might find on any given week day: assorted candy wrappers, paper clips, used clothing labels, band-aids (not used) and even empty matchbook covers.  But on this particular day of which I am about to speak, my father went over some bizarre practical-joke edge that was understood and appreciated only by him.

I was about fifteen when the incident occurred. I was sitting in the trendy café of New York’s Museum of Modern Art with a girlfriend one cold and rainy Saturday afternoon. We had just seen an interesting exhibit about netting down through the ages, and I had accidentally caught some in the heel of my boot. Although I extricated my foot with extreme care, I was looking over to my shoulder to make sure no guards were coming to get me and take me away for damaging museum property. As it turned out, it might have been less embarrassing if they had.

We were eating sandwiches and sipping on sodas and everything was quiet and fine until suddenly an alarm clock went off very close to our table. Needless to say, my head turned along with my friend’s and everyone else’s, searching for the source of the shrill ringing, which wouldn’t stop. Some inner force (or perhaps I just knew my father) made me open my bag, which had been lying across the top of my chair and when I did, the ringing became even louder. I reached inside where I found the small pulsating alarm clock whose stop button had long ago gone with the wind (or some other very loud place).

Horrified, I buried the resounding culprit under mounds of tissue and a pink make-up pouch; I then covered my face with a napkin and slipped ever so quietly under the table. I stayed there for a few loud minutes until it finally stopped ringing and my friend gave me the signal that we could leave without being noticed.

I don’t remember much about the rest of that fateful Saturday except that I had a pressing need to get even. My father was nowhere to be found and revenge was not to be mine, although he did leave me a note saying that perhaps he went a bit too far and he was sorry. My mother took my side whenever she could stop laughing and to this day the sight of small portable alarm clocks take me back to thoughts of museums, netting, and an embarrassing Saturday afternoon.

(Photo courtesy of John Kasawa/